Categories
Crime

Reginald Godfrey Crockett

Reginald Godfrey Crockett was born in Abenhall near Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean in 1896. He was the eldest son of Ernest and Elizabeth Crockett and had eleven younger sisters and two younger brothers. His father worked as a general labourer in local quarries and at Mitcheldean cement works. This essay provides an outline of his criminal career including details of events in his early history that may have impacted on his relationship with authority and the life choices he made.

Reginald Crockett started getting into trouble with the authorities at a young age. In July 1908, he was up before Littledean magistrates for the theft, committed jointly with a friend, of 2 shillings(s) worth of peas from a farmer’s field. He was bound over to the sum of £5 plus 10s costs.[1] In October 1908, he was bound over by Littledean magistrates and fined 8s costs for letting off fireworks on a public highway.[2] These sums were equivalent to about two days of wages and probably had to be paid for by his father. On 25 August 1911, Crockett appeared before Littledean magistrates accused of entering “enclosed premises” and was bound over.

In 1911, Reginald Crockett was working as a labourer at Mitcheldean cement works where his father also worked and by 1912, at the age of 17, he was living in lodgings. In November 1912, he was charged with stealing a watch that had been left attached to a motorbike in Mitcheldean. He pleaded guilty at Littledean magistrate’s court and was sentenced to one month in prison as “his record was a bad one”.[3]

World War One

In 1914, Crockett was living in Tredegar and working at Graham’s Navigation Colliery. On 26 October 1914, he joined the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Manchester Regiment and then transferred to the 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment. He was posted to France on 13 February 1915 where the 3rd Battalion of Monmouthshire suffered heavy casualties at the Second Battle of Ypres when British troops were subjected to German chlorine-gas attacks. Private W. Hay of the Royal Scots arrived in Ypres just after the chlorine-gas attack on 22 April 1915 and described what he saw:

“We knew there was something was wrong. We started to march towards Ypres but we couldn’t get past on the road with refugees coming down the road. We went along the railway line to Ypres and there were people, civilians and soldiers, lying along the roadside in a terrible state. We heard them say it was gas. We didn’t know what the hell gas was. When we got to Ypres, we found a lot of Canadians lying there dead from gas the day before, poor devils, and it was quite a horrible sight for us young men. I was only twenty so it was quite traumatic and I’ve never forgotten nor ever will forget it.”[4]

Lance Sergeant Elmer Cotton described the effects of chlorine gas:

“It produces a flooding of the lungs – it is an equivalent death to drowning only on dry land. The effects are these – a splitting headache and terrific thirst (to drink water is instant death), a knife edge of pain in the lungs and the coughing up of a greenish froth off the stomach and the lungs, ending finally in insensibility and death. The colour of the skin from white turns a greenish black and yellow, the tongue protrudes and the eyes assume a glassy stare. It is a fiendish death to die.” [5]

On 8th May 1915 during the 2nd Battle of Ypres, the 3rd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment made one of the most gallant stands in military history when in obeying the order to stand to the last man, the battalion was practically annihilated, without giving an inch of ground to the enemy, the battalion lost 703 in killed and wounded; all but a handful of officers and men remained. The survivors were merged with those of the 2nd Battalion Monmouthshire Regiment which had suffered a similar fate.[6] Around this time Crockett was shot in the head and was returned to Britain wounded on 12 May 1915.

On 3 September 1915, Crockett was brought before a court-martial in Abergavenny and sentenced to 42 days in a military prison for theft and a miscellaneous range of other offences.[7] On 12 October 1915, in Abergavenny, Crockett married 26-year-old Winifred Finch originally from Dudley who had moved with her family to Gloucester where her father worked as a foundry manager.[8]

At some same stage over the winter, Crockett deserted and went on the run. He later claimed that he was encouraged to desert by his wife. However, by April he had been captured and on 17 April 1916, Crockett was court-martialled at Oswestry. He was found guilty on three accounts of going absent without leave and two accounts of theft and sentenced to 12 weeks in a military prison.[9] Military prison discipline at this time was particularly harsh.

He was discharged from the army on 1 February 1917 either because of his health or because the army felt he was unfit to be a soldier. Crockett is listed as receiving the 1914 – 1915 Star Medal, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.[10]

Horse Theft

Crockett returned to the Forest of Dean and began a career as a horse thief. Stealing horses had a long history in Gloucestershire mainly because it was an attractive crime for the destitute rural poor and enabled them to make a quick profit for little effort. Horses were left out in fields overnight and could easily be taken and sold for a good price at nearby markets. In 1915 a horse could be sold for about £50 which is equivalent to about £6000 in today’s money. It was a very risky undertaking as it involved heavy penalties. However, it was probably far more widespread than the conviction figures suggest as most offenders were probably not caught.

In the years 1735-1799, the Gloucester Assizes passed 615 death sentences which led to 121 hangings, including 21 for horse theft and 13 for sheep theft. At this time horses were usually owned by the local gentry and it was they who sat at the Assizes as judge and jury. They were determined to prevent the loss of their property and believed hanging would be an effective deterrent.

Not all cases of animal theft during this period resulted in execution and by the 1830s, in most cases, the death sentences were commuted to transportation for life. However, in some cases executions for animal theft continued with 12 hangings for horse theft, 6 for sheep theft and one for cattle theft in Gloucester between 1800 and 1826. The last hanging in Britain for sheep theft was in 1831 and for horse theft in 1829.[11]

After 1832, those convicted of animal theft were usually transported.  There were 1,680 men and women transported from Gloucestershire (including Bristol) to Australia between the years 1783-1842, many of these for animal theft.[12] There were about 60 men and women transported from the Forest of Dean area between 1783-1842 and about one-third of these were for animal theft.[13] Transportation continued up to the 1860s, after which offenders were subjected to a punishment of hard labour in a prison.

Harnesses

In July 1917, Crockett was arrested for the theft of some harnesses from several local premises in the Forest of Dean. He was identified after being spotted on one of the premises and also for taking a harness to be altered at a local shop.  Harnesses were essential items for horse theft and it was likely he planned to use them for this purpose.

Crockett was easily identifiable as he was 5ft 7in high with war wounds which left a large scar on the side of his neck and the top part of one finger missing. He appeared before the Littledean magistrate, Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Kerr, and pleaded that he had spent two years in the trenches and had been wounded and gassed four times and as a result didn’t even know what he was doing sometimes.[14] He said he knew he was entitled to no mercy but asked to be fined rather than sent to prison. Kerr, who owned a number of horses and enjoyed hunting, sentenced him to two months in prison.[15]

On his release, Crockett spent the next few years in South Wales around Ebbw Vale and was involved in more petty crime appearing before the courts on three separate occasions, resulting in three separate spells in prison of six months. In one case, on 12 September 1918, he was sentenced to six months in prison for stealing a harness implying he was still planning to steal horses.

Homeless

On Crockett’s release from prison, Winifred refused to have anything to do with him. On 26 February 1919, he approached her in the street near her house on Landsdown Road in Gloucester resulting in an alternation. Winifred accused Crockett of grabbing her by the arm. On the other hand, he accused her of attacking him with a hatpin and poker when he returned later to collect his belongings. Gloucestershire Echo 22 March 1919 reported that they both issued summons against each other for assault but withdrew them during the hearing before a magistrate when it was revealed that they had agreed to get a divorce.

At the hearing, Crockett gave his address as High Street, Mitcheldean but it can be assumed his family also did not want to help him because he was now homeless, A week later was arrested for horse theft.[16] On 9 April 1919, he was brought before the Gloucester Quarter Sessions where he was charged with stealing a horse valued at £55 from a field in Longlevens near Gloucester on 25 March. Witnesses confirmed he travelled with the horse by train to Newport where he sold it for £47. Crockett was found guilty and, after admitting to another charge of horse theft on 6 March, was sentenced to twelve months with hard labour in Gloucester prison.[17]

Crockett was released on 2 February 1920 and told the authorities that he planned to live in Gloucester and work as a labourer. However, in March 1920, he was arrested again for theft of a horse valued at £89 and was committed for trial before the Herefordshire Quarter Sessions.[18] The actual theft could not be proved and so, on 5 April 1920, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to receiving a stolen horse.[19] The Dean Forest Mercury reported:

“Reginald Godfrey Crockett, a Forest of Dean and Gloucester man, before he was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment with hard labour at Hereford Quarter Sessions on Monday, said he had been twice wounded in the war and had been gas poisoned and suffered from shell shock. He pleaded guilty to the second of two charges – receiving a horse knowing it was stolen. He sold it to a Gloucester farmer for £50 and represented he had bought it from Dick Smith a Ruardean gipsy. The gipsy could not however be traced. The horse disappeared from Holmer, near Hereford and after the Gloucester farmer sold it to a Rodd farmer for £62 at Gloucester market it was reclaimed and the later lost his money. A detective said the prisoner who wore the 1914-1915 ribbon had spent some of his army life in prison and when convicted at Gloucester, 13 months or more ago, for horse stealing, and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment he admitted to having been convicted at Ebbw Vale and sentenced to three terms of six months each.”[20] 

However, it was not long after being released from prison he was again being sought by police for horse theft. This from the Police Gazette:

London

In 1922, Crockett was living in London and in trouble with the law. On 26 April 1922, he was up before the Central Criminal Court in London accused of stealing 120 bags of onions worth £130, using a forged delivery order. He was sent to Wandsworth prison for nine months of hard labour after two cases of stealing horses were taken into consideration. On his release on 11 December 1922, he claimed he was planning to return to Mitcheldean to work as a greengrocer.

However, in 1923 he was living in St Pancreas in London. On 23 September 1924, at the Central Criminal Court, he was sentenced to eighteen months in Wandsworth prison for obtaining wireless accessories, 100 headphones and credit by fraud. He was released on 24 December 1925 and told the authorities he planned to work as a painter in Euston.[21]

In July 1926, he was arrested under the alias Reginald Charles Turner with two accomplices and charged at the Winslow Petty Sessions with several burglaries in the Buckinghamshire area. He was arrested  after the car was seen driving fast and crashing into a lamp post outside the Royal Buckingham Hospital. The car was subsequently stopped at a police roadblock. Crockett’s records state that:

“With confederates, one of whom was a woman, he drove in a motor car to various provincial towns and called at garages where he made a small purchase and at the same time observed where the petrol and oil stores were situated then, later, called and broke into the garages and stole petrol and oil, etc.  In some cases, left the car in a field some distance from the scene of the crime. He often approached the premises from the rear, and in one case cut through bolts, holding swing doors, with a hack saw whilst in others forced doors with a screwdriver.”[22]

The gang were also accused of breaking into a counting house and stealing a number of tins of petrol, postage stamps and other articles. Crockett was now aged 30 and his accomplices were Edith Mann, aged 25, who said she had lived with Crockett for some time and Walter Jack Watson, aged 27. The Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press 16 October 1926 described the trial at the Buckingham Quarter Sessions:

“The jury returned verdicts of guilty on each count against all the prisoners and recommended leniency for the girl. No evidence was called in respect of the charge of entering a garage at Watford. Turner admitted a conviction at Hereford under the name of Crockett. Supt. Callaway said that Turner’s real name was Reginald George Crockett. He read out a list of previous convictions against him dating from 1908. He was a married man living apart from his wife. He had been co-habiting with Mann. They had no fixed address and left their last address on the date of the Winslow offence. He was the cause of the girl’s downfall. She had never been previously convicted, neither had Watson, who had lived a respectable life until he became acquainted with Crockett. The Chairman remarked that Crockett was the one who appeared to have led the others astray. Crockett was sentenced to three years penal servitude in Dartmoor prison. Watson and Mann were bound over for 12 months.” [23]

Crockett was released on licence on 16 January 1929 and moved to Gloucester where he planned to get a job as a driver. He was back in the Forest by March 1929, when he was charged with stealing a cycle and Exide battery in Cinderford.[24] He was arrested and brought before Gloucester Quarter Sessions in early April and found not guilty and released. However, he was now homeless and set out towards Oxfordshire sleeping rough, living a life on the roads as a tramp and surviving by theft. He no longer was able to keep up with the supervision order as directed by the courts. It wasn’t long before he was arrested and charged with a series of offences linked to sheep thefts in the area.

Sheep Theft

Sheep were commonly kept by farmers in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire and were easy targets for thieves. However, each owner marked his sheep with an easily identifiable signature and so they were difficult to sell and easy to trace. In June 1929, Crockett was arrested for stealing 42 sheep while tramping in Oxfordshire. He stole the sheep and lambs from four separate fields owned by different farmers near Deddington and then drove the sheep to Banbury and sold them under an assumed name. He was arrested before he could cash in the cheque.[25] He appeared before the Oxford Quarter sessions on 2 July 1929 charged with stealing 42 sheep. He was sentenced to three years in prison and four months for failing to report to the police under the supervising order from his previous conviction.[26]

In addition, on 1 August 1929, Crocket was committed to appear before Gloucester Quarter Sessions for stealing 22 sheep from a farmer in Forthampton and sold them at Upton-on- Severn market.[27] The sheep were easily identifiable by their markings and Crockett was identified as the man who sold the sheep. The Tewkesbury Register reported the case:

“Inspector R. J. Hedges said the prisoner was a native of Mitcheldean and had led a life of crime. Whilst in the army he was three times convicted of theft, and since had been convicted in 1918 (six months), 1919 (12 months), 1920 (15 months), 1922 (9 months), 1924 (18 months), 1926 (three years’ penal servitude and 6 months’ imprisonment). It was explained that the last sentence was passed at Oxford Sessions when various cases were taken into consideration. For certain reasons that case was not included. The Recorder said that prisoner wrote an excellent letter and produced a statement by him. The handwriting was excellent, and it contained at least one Latin quotation which was perfectly correct. Instead of taking advantage of his education, he had apparently drifted into a life of crime. He would be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude to run concurrently with the present sentence, which meant his punishment would not be increased.  An order for the restitution of the sheep was made.”[28]

Subsequently, Crockett was transferred from Gloucester prison to Dartmoor prison. Crockett was released on 6 June 1932 and told the authorities he planned to live in Gloucester and work as a stud groom. However, he ended up living in Shepherds Bush in London and was unemployed for some time until he obtained the role of a detective at a film studio at Shepherds Bush. He was sacked after a week because his services were not deemed satisfactory. He then set himself up as a general dealer in Shepherds Bush where he appeared to live with a variety of women listed on the electoral register as living at Crockett’s various addresses in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith: Nancy Crockett in 1934, Annie Crockett in 1935 and 1936, Nancy Crockett in 1937, Alice Crockett in 1938 and Edith Crockett in 1939.

Shepherds Bush

In October 1934, Crockett was arrested and charged with sheep theft with his brother Clarence as an accomplice. He was brought before the magistrates at Northleach where it was alleged that on 27-28 July, he stole six lambs from the Stowell Park Estate in Yarworth near Cheltenham. A description of the lambs was circulated and in August they were found in the possession of Clarence Crockett who lived in Mitcheldean and was an animal dealer. Clarence claimed he had bought them from his brother. Witnesses provided a statement that they saw the two men together with lambs in Mitcheldean.  The police went to Shepherds Bush and examined Crockett’s van and found sheep manure and wool inside. Reginald Crockett was committed for trial at Gloucester Quarter Sessions and the case against Clarence was dismissed.[29] At his trial, Crockett claimed he had bought the lambs from a man named Young but the Jury did not believe him and the judge said:

“You have a very long list of convictions. There are three sentences of penal servitude, and the last two are for sheep stealing. Three years of penal servitude does not seem to stop you, and the decision of the court is that you will receive four years of penal servitude.” [30]

However, he was released by early 1936 and moved back to London where he was now part of a network of criminals stealing and fencing stolen goods. In March 1936 he was up before Uxbridge Police Court with two other men for breaking in and stealing a large number of shoes and hosiery from Freeman, Hardy and Willis in Kingsbury near London valued at £117 on 24 February. They were also charged with breaking and entering and stealing shoes and other items to the value of £186 from the True Form shop in Eastcote near London on 11 March. Crockett and two associates, all hardened criminals with a long history of convictions, were known to the police who searched their flats and discovered the stolen goods. The three men were committed to appear before the Middlesex Assizes in June where they claimed they had bought the goods from an unknown person. The court was unable to prove burglary and theft and so Crockett was found guilty of receiving and sentenced to 18 months in prison while the other two received lesser sentences of 12 months and 9 months.[31]

In February 1939 Crockett, now living in Hammersmith, was implicated in the theft of a large number of gloves, valued at £432, from a glove factory in Yeovil.  The gloves were found in a glove shop owned by Lewis Rutter in Hammersmith market and he was arrested. Rutter claimed he bought the gloves for £43 from a man called Reg Crockett. Rutter was committed for trial at Somerset Quarter Assizes charged with receiving stolen goods. [32]

At Rutter’s trial at the end of February, his defence asked Detective Bradford, the investigating officer from the Flying Squad if Crockett had twelve previous convictions for receiving stolen goods. Bradford agreed Crockett had a number of previous convictions. The defence then asked Bradford if Crockett was known in the vernacular as a copper’s nark (a police informer). Bradford refused to answer.

In October 1942, Crockett married Edith Emily Bull, the daughter of a labourer from Dilton Marsh in Wiltshire and was living in a large house in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey.[33] It is possible this was the Edith with whom he shared a flat in 1939. Reginald Godfrey Crockett died in Richmond-upon-Thames in May 1974 leaving a sum of £18,725 (£230,000 in today’s money).

It is hard to say if Crockett’s experiences as a soldier during world war one and the injuries he received impacted on his relationship with authority and his choices to commit crimes. However, there is no evidence that he received any help to overcome the trauma he had experienced or any attempt at rehabilitation. He spent approximately 18 years in prison. His career as a serial offender highlights the failure of a criminal justice system at the time which was based purely on retribution and prison.

Crime Sentence Conviction Date
Theft of Peas Bound over July 1908
Letting off Fireworks 8s costs October 1908
Entering an enclosed premise. Bound over 25 August 1911
Stealing a watch One month in prison November 1912,
Theft 42 days in a military prison 3 September 1915
Three accounts of going absent without leave and two accounts of theft 12 weeks in a military prison 17 April 1916
Theft of some harnesses 2 months in prison July 1917
Crime in Ebbw Vale 6 months in prison 1917/18
Crime in Ebbw Vale 6 months in prison 1918
Theft of some harnesses In Ebbw Vale 6 months in prison 12 September 1918
Theft of a horse 12 months with hard labour 9 April 1919
Receiving a stolen horse 18 months in prison 5 April 1920,
Theft of onions and forgery. 9 months of hard labour 26 April 1922
Theft of wireless accessories and fraud. 18 months in prison 23 September 1924.
Burglaries and theft 3 years in prison October 1926
Sheep theft 3 years in prison 2 July 1929
Sheep theft 4 years in prison October 1934,
Receiving stolen goods 18 months in prison June 1936

[1] Gloucester Journal 1 August 1908. [2] Gloucester Journal 24 October 1908. [3] Gloucester Journal 23 November 1912. [4] Wikipedia. [5] Girard, Marion  A Strange and Formidable Weapon: British Responses to World War I Poison Gas (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). [6]https://cwm-waunlwyd.gwentheritage.org.uk/content/catalogue_item/history-of-the-3rd-batt-the-monmouthshire-regt [7] Fold 3 via Ancestry. [8] Gloucester Journal 16 October 1915. [9] Fold 3 via Ancestry. [10] Ancestry [11] http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/ [12] Iren Wyatt, The transportees from Gloucestershire to Australia 1783-1842 (Bristol: Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1988) [13] Ibid and Ancestry. [14] The policy of appointing Honoraries was designed to enlist the interest and sympathy of ‘gentlemen’ of position and wealth by connecting them to the Regiment. They sat on advisory committees and attended social functions. [15] Gloucester Journal 21 July 1917. [16] Gloucester Journal 5 April 1919. [17] Gloucester Journal 12 April 1919. [18] Gloucester Journal 27 March 1920. [19] Gloucester Journal 10 April 1920. [20] Dean Forest Mercury 9 April 1920. [21] Ancestry. [22] Ibid. [23] Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press 16 October 1926. [24] Gloucester Citizen 16 March 1929. [25] Birmingham Daily Gazette 28 June 1929. [26] Banbury Advertiser 4 July 1929. [27] Gloucester Citizen 2 August 1929. [28] The Tewkesbury Register, and Agricultural Gazette 24 August 1929. [29] Cheltenham Chronicle 11 August 1934. [30] Gloucester Journal 13 November 1934. [31] Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette 20 March 1936, 3 April 1936 and Friday 12 June 1936. [32] Western Morning News 8 February 1939. [33]Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser 2 January 1943.

Categories
Crime

Boxer

William James Jones, alias Boxer, was born in Lydbrook in the Forest of Dean in 1881. Boxer ran into trouble with the authorities at a young age for minor offences. During his life, he had a long history of convictions and spent many months in prison. This is an outline of his criminal career which includes details of events in his early history that may have impacted on his relationship with authority and the life choices he made.

Boxer was the eldest son of Mary and William Jones who worked at Lydbrook Tin Plate Works.  In the 1901 census Boxer is listed as a labourer and in 1911 as a mason’s labourer. He also worked at Lydbrook Tin Works. He had three sisters and one younger brother.

His first serious offence was at the age of 13 when in 1894 he was up before the magistrates, Colonel Davies and T T Taylor, for breaking into an outhouse and stealing an iron hoop and guide. He was bound over and as a result, was ordered to “come up when called upon”.[1] Other offences during the late 1890s included playing a dangerous game, riding a bicycle without a lamp and riding a bicycle without a bell. Magistrates had the option of sending children under the age of 16 to residential reformatories or industrial schools but preferred to use the whip as a punishment for minor offenses such as these. In 1895, Boxer was given twelve strokes with a birch rod for stealing two shillings.[2]

The Tinplate Strike

The year 1897 saw considerably industrial unrest in Britain as thousands of engineering workers went on strike demanding an eight-hour day. In 1897 there was also long strike at Lydbrook and Lydney Tin Works owned by R B Thomas and Co where workers were threatened with a 15 per cent wage reduction.[3]

On 3 May 1897, twelve teenagers working as catchers at the Lydbrook works went on strike bringing the works to a standstill.[4] The majority of the men and boys were members of the Tin Workers Union. On 21 May the Industrial World, the newspaper of the Tin Workers Union, declared that the union supported the catchers at Lydbrook in their strike and added they would receive strike pay. Subsequently, the mill men and tinhouse men at Lydbrook gave notice to cease work. On 5 June about 240 tin workers at Lydney gave two weeks’ notice to cease work in solidarity with the Lydbrook men in anticipation of having their wages reduced as well. This meant that 17 mills, employing nearly 1,000 hands were now idle at Lydney and Lydbrook.[5] The Tin Workers Union continued to back the action and paid strike pay.[6]

During the summer, some of the workers left the area and others obtained employment on farms or in the mines. Some went to work on the docks at Sharpness where they persuaded the dockers union to donate funds for the Forest strikers. There were regular collections for funds at the local collieries and supporters within the Forest community. However, by the Autumn, there was great distress in the Lydbrook area.

At the beginning of October, the Lydney workers returned to work with an agreement which meant a 10 to 15 per cent reduction for the skilled men but no reduction for the labourers.[7] The same terms were offered to the Lydbrook men.[8] In early November, after six months on strike, some of the Lydbrook mill men accepted the 15 per cent reduction in wages and returned to work.[9]  However, other sections of workers such as the finishers and tinners stayed out and an appeal for funds for “starving women and children” was made by members of the local labour movement.[10] The dispute was not finally resolved until February 1898.[11]

Gloucester Prison

The strike impacted the Jones family severely and by the end of winter 1897, they were living in severe poverty and suffering from hunger. In January 1898, the Gloucester Journal reported that:

“William James Jones, Arthur Powell, and Leslie Jones (Boxer’s younger brother), lads, Lydbrook, were summoned for committing wilful damage to potatoes and swedes, the property William Cooper, landlord of the Bell Inn, Lydbrook. The damage was estimated at 10s. The Chairman said the boy William Jones was bad enough to corrupt the whole parish. He had already been before them twice for theft, and three times for wilful damage to a fence. The other two boys had also been birched. The father of the Jones’ admitted that the elder lad, who was 16 years of age, had not had so much looking after he should. They had no food at home that day owing to the stoppage of the Lydbrook Tin Works, and they went into the prosecutor’s garden and took the swedes to eat. The Chairman said the Bench were inclined to think that the two youngest had been influenced by the eldest defendant, who was about a bad a boy there was in Lydbrook. He must now go to gaol for six weeks with hard labour; and the other two must come up when called upon.”[12]

Despite the development of reformatories magistrates continued to sentence adolescents over the age of 16 to adult prisons and these were sometimes accompanied by birching.  At the age of 16, Boxer was sent to Gloucester prison where he would be subjected to a brutal regime and the company of hardened criminals.

Hard Labour

In 1878 the government took over the running of prisons and introduced a system of stages in the prisoner’ sentence each lasting a minimum of 28 days. The first stage was the harshest, but after 28 days the prisoner could be promoted to the next stage providing their behaviour was good and they worked hard. There were four stages in total which allowed for increasing privileges such as being able to borrow a library book, receive and send letters, earn pocket money to be paid on release, etc.

The first stage involved solitary confinement and performing hard labour for about eight hours a day and, for the first fourteen days of their sentence, the prisoner had to sleep on a hard plank bed.  This system particularly disadvantaged prisoners on short sentences who had to endure brutal conditions on arrival.[13]

Hard labour according to the rules was supposed to be “of the hardest and most servile kind, in which drudgery is chiefly required and where the work is little liable to be spoilt by ignorance, neglect or obstinacy”.[14] The aim of hard labour in the prison regime was to crush the spirit of inmates and force them to mend their ways. Prisoners were kept in silence during work and the tasks were tedious and often useless. After the prisons abandoned the use of the treadmill in 1898 prisoners sentenced to hard labour were usually given menial and boring tasks. Hard labour was formally abolished in 1948.

William Sparrow gave an interview to the Gloucestershire Echo 29 August 1906 after his release from Gloucester prison for serving two months of hard labour for his involvement in the Leckhampton Hill riot. He was required to spend the day making mail-bags and was allowed one hour of exercise each day in the yard. He added:

“I had to sleep without a mattress, and that is a rather rough experience, for if you go off to sleep your bones began to ache, and then you awoke before getting any refreshing sleep. For the first month, I had strict separation from all prisoners … The food was sufficient and wholesome, but rough. The breakfast and supper are the same – a pint of gruel and eight ounces bread. For dinner, there is greater variety twice a week (Sundays and Thursdays) you get meat; three days soup, and two days suet pudding and potatoes”.

Cruelty

On 12 July 1898, Boxer was sent to prison again for two months for whipping a donkey. The Chairman of the Coleford Police Court, Colonel Davies, who had sentenced numerous children to be whipped said, without a hint of irony that it “it was the most disgusting case of cruelty that he had heard for the last ten years”.[15] In June 1899, Boxer was up before the Coleford Police Court and fined 10s for stone-throwing.[16]

In 1901, at the age of 21, Boxer was sentenced to one month in prison by Colonel Davies of the Coleford police court for stealing walnuts, valued at 6d.[17] At this time he was working at Lydbrook tin works. Later in the year, he went on the run after being accused of stealing apples and was arrested in Abercarn in South Wales. However, after he was apprehended, he assaulted a police officer by kicking him. As a result, he was sentenced to two months hard labour by T T Taylor at Coleford Police Court for the theft of apples and six months for the assault.[18]

In April 1906, Boxer was up before Ross Petty Sessions for stealing a bicycle lamp from a pub in Ross. He was sentenced to prison for two months. It was reported in court that when challenged by the police Boxer voluntarily produced the light which was hidden in his house and said:

“He had no intention of stealing the lamp, but he borrowed it to light himself home as he had no oil in his own lamp or money to buy any.”[19]

In March 1910, Boxer was sentenced to two months for common assault, possibly on his girlfriend, Julia Williams.

On 25 July 1910 Boxer broke into Lydbrook Co-operative store and stole two pairs of leather soles, one piece of soap, a pair of trousers, one pound of butter, seven candles, some cakes and one pound of sugar. He was accompanied by Julia Williams aged 17 and described as a charwoman. Boxer was arrested on 28 July, but since this offence was considered more serious than the others the magistrate committed him to be held on remand and to be tried at the Gloucester Quarter Sessions in front of a judge and grand jury

On 19 October Boxer appeared before the Assizes and pleaded guilty and said “we are both guilty of it. I will tell you the truth.”  However, Julia Williams claimed she didn’t have anything to do with the crime but was found guilty of receiving stolen goods and bound over for the sum of £5.

Boxer was sentenced to 14 days of hard labour in addition to the time already served. The prosecuting counsel mentioned that the woman was pregnant and the Chairman asked Boxer if he was willing to marry the girl and he said yes. However, Williams said: “I don’t want to marry him, because when he has got me, he won’t give me a living.” [20]

On 1 April 1911, Boxer stole a silver watch from a jeweller shop in Cinderford. He was arrested a few days later and on 15 June was sentenced to 12 months of hard labour at the Gloucester Assizes for the theft.[21] 

Escape

In October 1912, Boxers made a sensational escape from a moving train while being transported to Gloucester prison after being arrested on a charge of stealing 9 shillings from a barbershop in Coleford. During the journey on Tuesday 8 October, Boxer complained of being sick and the police constable who was guarding him allowed him to go to the window of the door for fresh air. When the train slowed down to take the bend at Fetter Hill, Boxer jumped out of the carriage window from the moving train and, despite having handcuffs on both wrists, evaded serious injury. The policeman pulled the communication cord and stopped the train, but Boxer made off into the woods in the direction of Whitecroft. He approached several villagers and asked them to release him from the handcuffs but they refused.

On Saturday evening, he was recaptured at Lydbrook and, then brought before the Gloucester Quarter Sessions. However, the charge of theft levelled against him was dismissed by the jury and he was discharged having already served time for the escape.[22] Boxer said, “Thank you, Sir”.

Illustrated Police News 17 October 1912 which gives an account of Boxer’s escape

On 25 August 1914 Boxer was up before Coleford Police Court for breaking and entering the Co-operative Store Lydbrook, and stealing some stamps, threepence, tobacco, and tomatoes, between the 21 and 22 of August. However, the police offered no evidence and so Boxer was discharged.[23]

World War One

Sometime between the start of World War One and 1916, Boxer enlisted or was conscripted into the military where he would have been subject to military law. Boxer’s relationship with authority was problematic and inevitably he would have found military discipline a challenge.

In the case of minor discretions, a non-commissioned officer could order a soldier like Boxer to carry out unpleasant tasks such as cleaning the latrines or order him to attend extra parades, etc.

If the offence was more severe, such as drunkenness, a soldier would have to appear before a company commander. In this case, a fine could be imposed or the soldier confined to barracks with fatigue duties, square bashing, or pack drills.  If the offence was even more serious such the soldier had to appear before a commanding officer who could detain the man or award him a Field Punishment for up to twenty-eight days.

Field punishment was introduced in 1881 following the abolition of flogging. It was a common punishment during World War One. A commanding officer could award a Field Punishment for up to 28 days which consisted of the convicted man being placed in fetters and handcuffs or similar restraints and attached to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel or a fence post, for up to two hours per day.

The final sanction for offences was the court-martial. The punishment varied from confinement to barracks with loss of pay for offences such as overstaying leave by a few hours, to execution by firing squad for desertion, theft, sleeping while on duty or hitting a senior officer.

If an offence was committed at home, the sentence would normally be detention in a military prison under very harsh conditions, although by 1915, men were often quickly sent back to the trenches under a suspended sentence.

However, after four months Boxer was discharged for misconduct. Discharge in these circumstances was highly unusual and would only be used in extreme circumstances or else it could become an attractive option for new conscripts.

There are about a dozen cases of a William Jones being brought before a court-martial during in 1915 and 1916 so it is difficult to ascertain if any of these were Boxer. Consequently, it is unclear what happened during these four months but it can only be assumed that the military authorities found it very difficult to deal with Boxer and decided it was easier to get rid of him.

However, now back in the Forest Boxer reverted to form. On April 1916, he was up before the Gloucester Quarter Sessions for breaking into a shop in West Dean. Boxer handed in a statement requesting leniency and said he “expected shortly to be called up. He wished he were now at the front killing Germans.” The chairman said it was unlikely he would be wanted by the military and added that because of his criminal record he would be sent to prison for three months of hard labour.[24]

The military was short of recruits and so after his release, Jones enlisted or was conscripted into the Royal Garrison Artillery. He signed on at Plymouth on 10 July 1916.[25] He did not last long and soon deserted and went on the run and was then arrested in South Wales and held in Usk Prison. However, while on the run it became apparent that he had broken into two houses in Lydbrook to steal some clothes. As a result, he was charged with larceny and transported from Usk and then held in Coleford to await his trial.

Julia Williams

On 3 February 1917, Boxer married Julia Williams at St Johns church in Coleford while in custody and handcuffed to two policemen on either side to guard against another escape. The handcuffs were removed for the tying of the nuptial knot.

On 6 February he was brought before Coleford magistrates court charged with breaking and entering and stealing clothes from the two houses. He admitted stealing a jacket and a pair of trousers from one house, but not breaking and entering, and stealing a comb from the other house, but not the pair of boots as charged. He asked the Bench to deal with the case summarily as he was now a ‘lawful’ married man with two children.[26]

He was committed to the Quarter Sessions where the chairman remarked on Boxer’s long criminal record and the fact that he was a deserter. He was sentenced to six months of hard labour to be followed by two years of police supervision.[27]  However, on release, he failed to report as required under the police supervision order and consequently was arrested and on 21 September 1917 was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment.[28]

Boxer and Julia went on to have several more children but they split up and by 1924 Boxer was homeless. On 31 January 1924, Julia made a complaint of an assault on her by Boxer to Coleford police while she was in the woods collecting small coal from colliery waste. Boxer was subsequently arrested and remanded in custody.[29]  On 5 February the Gloucester Citizen reported:

“William James Jones, alias ‘Boxer’, labourer, of no fixed abode, was brought up on remand charged by his wife, Julia Jones, Mile End, Coleford, with common assault. Prisoner pleaded not guilty. Mrs. Jones said her husband followed her into the wood at Mile End, and tried to take her wedding ring off her finger. As she fainted away he struck her on the face, and pushed her the stomach, and she had not been free from pain since. She was in a certain condition. Witness had to be helped out the wood. She had not been to see a doctor as she had not the means. She was separated from her husband under a recent order.”[30]

After several witness statements, the Chairman said there was no evidence that Boxer struck his wife in the stomach but said he “would like to know how she got marks her face”. He passed a sentence of one month’s hard labour. Boxer replied in a cordial tone: “Thank you very much, gentlemen”.

Boxer was lucky to get away so lightly as the women in the Forest had a reputation for looking after each other and not putting up with abusive husbands. This is from the Illustrated Police News 31 August 1878.

“A man living near Coleford who bad beaten his wife and threatened his children because he had been summoned for not sending the latter to school was lynched by about forty women, who flogged, and then dragged him to the parish pond, where his protested penitence and importunities alone saved him from a ducking. While supplicating for forgiveness on his bended knees, one of the crowd drenched him with water from a bucket.”

In May 1924 Boxer was temporarily employed by Mr Taylor in hauling steam coal at Lydbrook Tin Works. On May 12th he accompanied Mr Taylor to his home to settle up matters financially and stayed in the kitchen over the night. After his departure, Mr Taylor noticed that a silver watch and a silver medal were missing.[31]

Boxer was also in trouble with the law for not paying his maintenance to his wife and children. He was arrested for both offences and appeared before the local magistrates who sentenced him to one month in prison for not paying his maintenance. He was committed for trial at the Assizes for the theft where he was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months hard labour. Boxer responded by smiling and saluting the judge and said: “Thank you very much. Much obliged, my Lord”.[32]

On his release Boxer was homeless. In March 1925, he was summoned by Julia for non-payment of arrears on a maintenance order for his four children resulting in his appearance before the magistrates. Boxer asked the magistrate to discharge the order, contending that as he no longer cohabited with his wife, he was not now liable. The Chairman sentenced Boxer to two months in prison.[33]

After 1925 there are no records of further offences and it is possible that Boxer settled down into a crime-free life. In 1939, he was listed as a general labourer and was living with Julia with their daughter Evelyn at Woodbine Cottage, the Scowles, Coleford. Boxer died in 1948 aged 67.

It is hard to say how Boxer’s early experiences of poverty, physical abuse and incarceration impacted on his relationship with authority and his choices to commit crimes. However, birching and hard prison labour would not have helped and while he was shown no kindness from the authorities there was no attempt at rehabilitation. His career as a serial offender highlights the failure of a criminal justice system at the time which was based purely on retribution.

His relationship with Julia was at times violent and his assault on her in the woods when she was pregnant was the worst of his crimes. In 1925, at the age of 44, his criminal career appears to come to an end. It is possible he may have changed and improved his relationship with Julia and that they lived together happily into old age. Boxer was not just a criminal he was a son, brother, husband, father, worker and member of the community.

 

Age Crime Sentence Conviction Date Discharge Date
13 Stealing a hoop Bound Over 24 April 1894
14 Stealing two shillings Twelve strokes with a birch rod April 1895
Playing a dangerous game Unknown Unknown
Riding a cycle without a lamp Unknown Unknown
Riding a cycle without a bell Unknown Unknown
16 Wilful damage to potatoes Six weeks 28 December 1897
17 Ill-Treating a donkey Two months 12 July 1898 5 Sept 1898
18 Stone-throwing Fined 10s 6 June 1899
20 Stealing walnuts value 6d One month 19 Nov 1901 18 Dec 1901
21 Assaulting a police officer Two months 13 Nov 1902 12 Jan 1903
24 Stealing apples value 1s Two months 16 Feb 1905
24 Assault on police Six months 16 Feb 1905
25 Stealing a cycle lamp Two months 6 April 1906
29 Common assault Two months 1 March 1910
29 Shop breaking and stealing 2 pairs of leather soles, one piece of soap and other articles Three months of hard labour Held on remand from 28 July 1910 and convicted on 19 October 1910 1 Nov 1910
30 Theft of one silver watch 12 months of hard labour

 

15 June 1911 14 Jun 1912
30 Escaping from police custody One day 16 Oct 1912 16 Oct 1912
32 Shop breaking and stealing stamps, threepence, tobacco, and tomatoes. Not Guilty 25 August 1914
34 Shop breaking three months of hard labour April 1916
35 Desertion and breaking and entering and stealing clothes from two houses six months hard labour 6 February 1917
35 Failing to report to the police. Twelve months of hard labour 21 September 1917
42 Assault on wife One month’s of hard labour Feb 1924
42 Arrears under a maintenance order for his wife. One Month May 1924
42 Theft of watch Six months’ of hard labour May 1924
43 Arrears under a maintenance order for his wife. Two months March 1925

[1] Gloucestershire Chronicle 28 April 1894.

[2] Gloucester Journal 27 April 1895.

[3] Gloucester Citizen 12 May 1897.

[4] The various jobs in the production of tinplate were highly skilled and each man or boy had a specific role to play in the production process. For instance, the catcher’s task was to catch the steel as it came out of the rolls and swing it back over to the Roller.

[5] Gloucester Journal 3 July 1897.

[6] Gloucester Journal 17 July 1897.

[7] Gloucester Journal 9 October 1897.

[8] Gloucester Journal 16 October 1897.

[9] Gloucester Citizen 10 November 1897.

[10] See letter by J H Alpass, a Labour District Councillor for Thornbury, in the Gloucester Citizen on 23 November 1897.

[11] Gloucester Journal 5 February 1898.

[12] Gloucester Journal 1 January 1898.

[13] Jill Evans, A History of Gloucester Prison (Newent: Glos Crime History Books, 1988).

[14] Quoted by Evans, A History of Gloucester Prison, 88-89.

[15] Gloucester Citizen 13 July 1898.

[16] Gloucester Journal 10 June 1899.

[17] Gloucestershire Chronicle 23 November 1901.

[18] Gloucester Citizen 8 February 1905 and Gloucester Citizen Friday 17 February 1905.

[19] Gloucester Citizen 6 April 1906.

[20] Gloucester Journal 22 October 1910.

[21] Gloucester Journal 8 April 1911.

[22] Gloucester Citizen 9 October 1912, Gloucester Journal 12 October 1912 and Gloucester Journal 19 October 1912.

[23] Gloucester Journal 29 August 1914.

[24] Gloucester Journal 8 April 1916.

[25] Ancestry.

[26] Gloucester Journal 10 February 1917.

[27] Gloucester Journal 7 April 1917.

[28] Police Gazette 12 October 1917.

[29] Gloucester Citizen 4 February 1924.

[30] Gloucester Citizen 5 February 1924.

[31] Gloucester Citizen 21 May 1924.

[32] Gloucester Journal 14 June 1924.

[33] Gloucester Journal 28 March 1925.